European commission could force U-turn on horse passports database

European commission could force U-turn on horse passports database

Britain may have to make an embarrassing U-turn over a decision not to fund a national database for horse passports as the EU seeks to tighten controls in the wake of the horsemeat scandal.

As UK ministers announced a review of the government's handling of the crisis, it emerged that the European commission wants every country to have a central database of horse movements, including through abattoirs.

Britain had a national database until ministers ended funding last September, and now leaves recording to 75 different bodies. The commission plans to introduce new EU rules on the identification of horses, ponies and donkeys within months. These will make a central database mandatory and cut the number of bodies empowered to issue passports.

David Heath, Britain's minister for agriculture and the environment, promised a wide-ranging review of the government's response over the past three months "to help restore confidence", but did not say what its response would be to the commission's plans.

He said only that a meeting of experts across the EU last week had been "a useful exchange of views in advance of further discussions at official level later this week".

The charity World Horse Welfare has previously said ministers have been aware of the weaknesses in the UK passport system and that a good central IT system is needed.

Details of the government's review will be published by the environment secretary, Owen Paterson, soon. Heath said police investigations into "completely unacceptable" food fraud were continuing, and said it was right that "any weaknesses in our food system and the controls it is subject to are identified and dealt with".